Sunday, June 27, 2010

Yes, Africa Can Unite!

Ghana 10-12 Away Soccer JerseyGhana is the last African team playing in the World Cup, and now enjoys the support of the majority of Africa. This leads me to point out a popular misconception - the one that depicts the idea that African nations that do not support each other and only seek self interests. Whilst no two nations can support each other 100% of the time, African nations are not warring all the time either and do know when its important to support each other ... when it comes to football (soccer). When Ghana qualified in their group and no other African nation went through to the next round, the rest of Africa threw their full support behind the Ghanaian team. In spite of the tendency of Africans substitute the three syllable 'Gha-nai-an' and opt to call their African counterparts four syllable 'Gha-na-ni-an', we all knew that their was no mistaking that it was the people of Ghana that they are now supporting. In an earlier post, Why African Teams Can't Suceed In A World Cup, I commented on an American sports commentator's view that part of the reasons African teams fail is due to ethnic, or in his words, 'tribal' fighting. I went on to dispute that, since from a sociological perspective, in inter group relations theories, when groups band together in a common goal, they tend to unite. Similarly, we can see the same thing happening in the World Cup.

Generally speaking, in sports, African people will tend to support the next African team before any other team in sign of solidarity, albeit being staunch fans of the English Premier League and other nations like Brazil. It is also interesting to note, that we do not see North Americans (USA and Canada) similarly throw their full support behind Mexico which is the last team representing that region. Now that USA is out, we see no massive support of U.S citizens for their neighbors. For South Africa, it has meant seeing the now generation of white South Africans, throw their support for Ghana as well, hence identifying themselves with Africa according to Alexandra Hudson's article 'World Cup fires African identity of young whites'. This is a significant shift because it shows the transition in self-identity in South Africa amongst South Africans of all shades. Many white South Africans are descendants of the Dutch, Portuguese, Greek and Italians and identify with this heritage. Whereas in the past they correctly, identified themselves with their rich multiple heritage, now it seems like the order in which they do is shifting. They see themselves as South Africans first, Africans second, and their ancestry third. This is the same trend we see for hyphenated-Americans in the U.S that see themselves as Americans first.

On a soccer report on Al Jeezera News channel a few days ago, I saw them interviewing what they called young 'Italian' fans in South Africa whom they asked to do a soccer cheer. These Caucasian boys were dressed in their Italian fan gear for the Italian match, but when asked to sing to show their Italian team spirit, they sang 'shosholoza' (A South African/Zimbabwean call and response song made popular by migrant workers) and it occurred to me that these were in fact, Italian-South Africans. Not to say that the World Cup had performed miracles in South Africa and that everyone is singing Kumbayaa, but we need to recognise that African identity is also taking shape in Africa. All Africans whether white, east or south asian, black, western, eastern, southern, or northern African can feel a part of this inclusive continent. Yes, we can all unite -- well, at least around a little white Jabulani ball.

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